The holidays can always guarantee you one thing: busy airports. Full flights, long lines, a lot of stress as people scamper home. For many, you put your headphones in, turn on Netflix and just make yourself unavailable for conversation with strangers.
But I’m that guy. That guy who sits next to you on the plane and almost always starts a conversation. If your headphones aren’t in yet, you can expect at least a “hi.” As a medical student, most of my conversations are about medicine. I don’t get to hear about people’s experiences as teachers, lawyers, business consultants, or artists. So I like to talk and listen to other people’s experiences.
And that’s where I found another person in medicine. Not a provider, but rather, a patient. The woman next to me started talking and within minutes revealed she has a grade 3 pilocytic astrocytoma, a benign but rare tumor. If she hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have ever guessed. She reported no symptoms, didn’t have vision changes (these tumors can grow right above the optic chiasm and press on the optic nerves, reducing your vision). More importantly, she didn’t receive chemo or radiation therapy, nor surgery. She sees a neurologist and a neurosurgeon, but she admits to a more holistic medical regimen. She is aware of her diet and exercise and also takes herbs and nutrients.
Rather than be a skeptic, I wanted to listen. And one thing she mentioned really resonated with me–she wanted to focus on her current quality of life rather than removing the tumor. Why spend time in the hospital and endure pain when she can appreciate each day. She is a painter and traveler. And she most recently has been sharing her experience with others with similar diagnoses to show the power of perspective. I was really moved by her honesty.
After a few hours, we parted ways. And I appreciate her for sharing her experiences so bluntly. I know it will shape how I listen to patients’ experiences.